It’s like a path out of the mountains that you just finished. You look back and the rain clouds have obscured all signs of where you came from. But if you trace your route back you can find the places where one path separated, or joined, or veered off.
I got a letter from a cousin the other day detailing my family history back ten generations, something I didn’t even know was possible because my paternal African-American and Filipino sides had been so ruined by my ancestors having been slaves and a populace taken over in a colony. No records had been kept of family lines here. But my great-great grandfather in South Carolina, where my African-American family is Gullah, from Hilton Head Island, was a white Jew named Driesen. I going over the records my cousin was able to step back ten generations, 1621, to a couple in County Cork, Ireland, Teige and Elizabeth Cantey.
You can imagine my reaction… “I’m part Irish???”
I wonder what traces filter back down through the genes as one generation flows into the next. Is there such thing as genetic memory? Or do ghosts of a person’s experience and sights burn into the film of the next generation’s life plate? Does it mean anything that somewhere in the mists of time two Irish people nudged my existence with their children and then made the frightening crossing over to North America?
But there is something deeply comforting in catching a glimpse of the trail that led me here. All these years it has been a blur. I feel more connected to the earth now, as if my cells now lead further back and I am not just an afterthought.